THE HERO AND THE VILLAINS OF UKRAINE
Updated: Apr 14, 2022
The Horrors of War
Russian President Putin acted illegally by invading Ukraine. However, in the world of “Realpolitik” there is only limited space for morality or a contest between “good and evil” – not when the security interests of great powers are threatened. To be clear, the events in Ukraine, while gross and illegal, are no more illegal than the US wars in Korea (America’s scorched earth policy as it evacuated Pyongyang in 1950), Vietnam (Agent Orange), Iraq (NO Weapons of Mass Destruction) nor, for that matter the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, when it was clear to the US military establishment that Japan was on its knees and on the verge of surrender.
There are no angels, only victims. Russia faces an existential interest in keeping NATO away from its borders. It will not tolerate American missiles in Ukraine any more than the US would tolerate Russian missiles in Cuba in 1962. The US could, and it should have averted this crisis. Instead, it chose to keep open Ukraine’s option (a pipedream) to join NATO.
In 1997, 50 prominent foreign policy experts wrote to President Bill Clinton opposing NATO expansion, saying “It is a policy error of historic proportions”. Russian scholar, George Kennan described NATO’s expansion as “The most fatal error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era”. All this began in April 2008 after NATO, at the behest of then President George W Bush called for Ukraine and Georgia to become part of NATO. In 2014, Henry Kissinger said that Ukraine should not join NATO and doing so would make Ukraine a theatre for East-West confrontation.
The West Ignores Russia’s Security Demands and Stokes Conflict
During the days, months and years preceding the invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, 24 February 2022, the US and NATO dismissed Russian demands that Ukraine not join NATO which would cross a clear red-line for Russia. In 1990, Gorbachev was assured by his Western counterparts that NATO (which was established explicitly to contain the Soviet Union) would expand “not one inch” to the East. A recently discovered report in the British National Archives, again demonstrates that Russia was given these assurances in 1991 by the US, Great Britain, and others after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Eastern Europe.
Russia contends that Ukraine’s security is not Washington’s primary concern, but rather its desire to contain and undermine Russia. Some reports even suggest that Washington is encouraging a protracted war to weaken Russia. Ukraine is a mere proxy. Indeed, on 30 March 2022, commentary in the Asia Times talks of: “Washington’s determination to destroy the Putin regime, if necessary, by prolonging the Ukraine war long enough to bleed Russia dry”.
The West and the Western media have expressed daily astonishment at Ukraine’s resilience and fortitude, and the difficulty experienced by Russia in achieving victory and a quick end to the conflict. A crushing, speedy defeat is clearly what Ukraine’s “friends” had fully expected. Yet, they stood by, keeping a safe distance. They not only allowed this disaster to unfold but encouraged it! Neither the US nor NATO has sought to intervene, to bring peace (on the contrary they have poured more and more arms and ammunition into Ukraine, stoking the fire). Attempting to mediate a peace has been left to Turkey, France, and Israel.
NATO expansion in Eastern Europe has brought the Russia/China security alliance closer. They see the West’s actions in Eastern Europe and in Taiwan as challenging their ambitions. Now, unbelievably, Washington has even sought China’s intervention in the war! Instead, China’s President Xi Jinping urged Biden to engage in talks with Russia suggesting that Washington take practical steps to ease the situation instead of continuing “to add fuel to the fire”.
In January 2022, German Vice-Admiral Schonbach was sacked after saying that the Crimean Peninsula was gone and never coming back and, in reference to Putin, he said that “What he really wants is respect and, my God, giving someone respect is low cost”.
Great Courage and Leadership
President Biden is no Churchill, Reagan, or Lincoln, nor does he have the courage of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a relative novice and former comedian. Zelensky, a Russian speaking Jew, was elected President of Ukraine in 2019. Rather than standing on the sidelines and leaving it to Zelensky, the US and its NATO allies should be working overtime to achieve a negotiated settlement of the war. Instead, Biden has described Putin as a “war criminal”, a “murderous dictator”, “a pure thug” and “a butcher” even going so far as to say that he “cannot remain in power”, a statement widely interpreted to mean that the President of the USA was calling for regime change in Russia. A report in Asia Times on 30 March describes this threat as having “exceeded any made by the United States at any time during the Cold War”.
Zelensky’s magnificent, barnstorming speeches before political leaders in the Western world have produced accolades and standing ovations, but no boots on the ground nor planes in the air. On 6 March, Zelensky called on the US Congress to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine’s airspace, but to no avail. He slammed the US and its NATO allies for rejecting his demands saying, “All the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you.”
On 8 March, Zelensky said that he was ready for talks on compromises regarding Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as Crimea. Recognising that NATO feared having Ukraine join the alliance, he was also willing to renounce Ukraine’s bid to join NATO. A few days later, Zelensky condemned NATO saying that it never looked “as weak as it is today”, even suggesting that NATO would respond in the same way even if Russia attacked a NATO member state. The Ukraine war has exploded NATO credibility. NATO’s policy of defiantly keeping it doors half open to Ukraine has precipitated the Russian invasion.
Even though Western powers were never fully committed to letting Ukraine in, they continued to dangle the hope of access, giving Ukraine false hopes. The US and Europe were in effect saying, “We’ll help you, but we’re not going to defend you”.
Biden has repeatedly stated that there would be no US troops in Ukraine. Even the word “sanctions” sounds weak compared to the seriousness of a military invasion. As Australia’s Greg Sheridan observed, the West hit Putin with a swarm of denunciations, and a sanctions response which resembled being beaten “with a wet lettuce”.
The biggest victim is Ukraine itself. One by one, nervous chatter from the US Administration talked of “imminent invasion” issuing anxious warnings. Zelensky eventually asked the West to lay off the doomsday warnings which only created panic!
In proposals submitted to Washington and NATO in December 2021, Moscow called for a halt to the US led military Bloc’s expansion and for them to renounce military activity in Ukraine. Moscow again demanded that Ukraine never be admitted to NATO. Instead, the Biden Administration granted millions of dollars in security assistance and sent weapons to the Ukrainian army. Even then, the US repeated “The President will not be putting the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk by sending them into a war zone.”
On Thursday 24 February 2022 Russian troops poured into Ukraine. The invasion did not emerge out of the blue. For months, the West has been anxiously watching and speculating about what might happen next. Now, after suffering huge damage and loss of life in Ukraine, Zelensky is calling for talks with Putin, talks which should and could have taken place long ago, and which would have taken place had Zelensky’s confidence not being boosted by the apparent, but false support and encouragement from the US and its NATO allies.
Not Everyone Agrees with US and NATO
India, with its commitment to “non-alignment”, abstained from a UN vote to condemn the invasion, as did China. While the US imposes sanctions on Russia, India is eager to take more Russian crude oil at bargain prices and even considers rupee payments and currency swaps to bypass US sanctions. China has doubled down on its alignment with Russia, viewing its long-term rivalry with Washington as its chief geopolitical concern. Most countries In Southeast Asia (members of ASEAN) also prefer not to take sides.
On 2 March 2022, former Indian diplomat, MK Bhadrakumar published an article “Why Middle East won’t join US, in Isolating Russia”. Not a single Muslim country, nor Israel had voiced support for Washington in its confrontation with Russia. Israel prevented the US from transferring its Dome missile defence system to Ukraine. The US sought support from Israel to co-sponsor its resolution condemning Russia in the Security Council. Israel refused. For Israel, Ukraine is not like any other country. Ukraine is where, in September 1941, the Nazi army perpetrated one of the greatest massacres of World War II at Babi Yar, just outside Kyiv. Although the US is Israel’s close ally, Israel also has a special relationship with Russia, a nation which also suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis. Twenty million Soviet citizens perished. Turning to Russia and China for weapons is a growing trend in the Middle East.
When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, America and NATO stood back and watched. In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, America and the EU imposed sanctions which had no decisive impact. While the West stands for freedom, it does not stand up for its friends! NATO is prepared to fight Russia, but only to the last Ukrainian! Only days ago, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa placed the blame on NATO: “The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from its own leaders and officials over the years, that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region.”